Cable Show 2013: Multicultural Nets to Distributors -- Make Room

Panelists Say Multiethnic Markets Present Growth Prospects for Cable Companies

Washington -- Attendees at a panel session on multicultural programming Tuesday had a chance to hear an independent programmer pitch a place on an independent cable operator's lineup -- without immediate success.

The programmer speaking at B&C/Multichannel News' Multicultural TV event held here during the Cable Show was NUVOtv, represented by senior VP of affiliate distribution and marketing Judi Lopez, and the operator was Mediacom Communications, represented by vice president of programming Glenn Goldsmith, who declared at the outset that he'd been invited to be candid and intended to be so.

They were clearly well acquainted, and comfortable joking with each other. "Glenn and I go way back, so this is loving," Lopez said. "He's married to a Puerto Rican so he understands our demographic."

"And your frustration," Goldsmith added.

Goldsmith said Mediacom launched a multicultural package with 27 channels about six months ago, but doesn't have a deal for NUVOtv, an English-language service targeting younger Latinos. Goldsmith said that in general, Mediacom and other operators face the quandary of declining video profit margins, rising costs for sports and retransmitted broadcast stations and constraints on bandwidth. They also have commitments to bigger media entities that compel carrying other new offerings targeting Asian, Spanish-language and English-speaking Hispanics.

"Let's be honest: it's all about what's left" after fulfilling those commitments, Goldsmith said. "What do I have to do with the big guys, and if there's room left, let's talk. Is your content compelling in our markets? Does it make sense and what is the cost?"

Lopez had said she has to do a lot of "missionary" work on NUVOtv's behalf with distributors not carrying the 32-million-subscriber, eight-year-old channel. She said Univision's move to offer English-language as well as Spanish-language content has helped her channel and NBCUniversal's mun2 (whose general manager Diana Mogollon was also on the panel) get past square one in affiliate talks. "The good news is, they get it," she said.

But despite the constraints under which operators work, they have to take a risk on channels that serve video markets that are growing, Lopez said. "There's got to be a point in time when the doors have to unlock."

To that point, Goldsmith said, "There's no greater risk than recurring license fees for 36 or 60 months." Lopez later said she'd change her choice of word from risk to opportunity.

Otherwise, during the two panels at the breakfast event, there was agreement that multiethnic markets presented growth prospects for cable companies.

"It's the new America -- wake up," Mogollon said. "Salsa outsells ketchup, tortillas outsell bread, and this is the new America. This room is the new America. It's multicultural. All these networks have a place at the table."

Alexander "Sandy" Brown, CEO of One World Sports, a service that features Asian sports teams (and is carried by Mediacom), said multicultural populations are what pay-TV distributors need to target to add homes. "The programming is going to generate the numbers."

Live events, partnered with affiliates when possible, are still an important part of the mix, programmers said. Adrian Adriano, vice president of multicultural marketing at top cable operator Comcast, agreed. "It gives us an opportunity to get close to the customer" and hear comments you don't get while you're in the office. He spoke of a program to make food donations at schools, an effort that goes beyond business and makes Comcast a part of the community.

"Until we are fully distributed, we have to take our content to people," Ted Kim, CEO of Mnet America, said.

He said Korean pop music concerts the network put on during Asian Pacific Heritage Month drew thousands of attendees, and even though the performers spoke no English, the audience mix was about 40% non-Asian. That prompted him to say the network needed to research its audience as closely as possible.

Eddie Hill, senior VP of 360 consumer marketing and brand strategy for BET Networks, said the strongest marketing plan is mix of pay media and "experiential" events. BET had a successful campaign in six cities, encouraging fans to create music videos, have them judged and put online. The winner sang at the preshow before the BET Music Awards.

"The challenge is how do you scale it," he said, because it's too big a proposition to stage such an event in, say, 25 cities. Social media is the way to spread the experience, he said, "but it's always a challenge."